I’ve written several times about kaiju eiga (Japanese giant monster movies) here at Biff Bam Pop! before, but the thing that much of the population should know is that despite the fact that they do rule, not all giant monsters are Japanese in origin, nor are they specific to the movies. I’m going to talk about three here whose ‘careers’ extended into the world of comics. Meet me after the jump for three pretty cool comic book kaiju – Gorgo, Konga, and Reptilicus!
There was a time in the 1960s when kaiju eiga was extremely popular at the box office worldwide, and other nations’ film industries tried to cash in on the Godzilla train. South Korea, the United States, Denmark, and the United Kingdom all tried their hand at creating their own giant rampaging monster. Gorgo was one of the more successful attempts from the UK, telling the now cliché story of a parent monster rescuing its equally gigantic and horrific offspring. And like any successful pop culture film endeavor, Gorgo soon moved to the comic book form.
Gorgo in the comics began rather traditionally, with a comic version of the film, a retelling like a visual novelization, but with one special difference that made it stand out among the other monsters on the comics racks of the time – the art was by Steve Ditko. If the name rings a bell, it should and if not, shame on you. Ditko is the co-creator of characters like Doctor Strange, the Question, Shade the Changing Man, the Hawk and the Dove, and some obscure guy called the Amazing Spider-Man.
Steve Ditko’s brilliance graced over a dozen issues of Gorgo and Return of Gorgo, and was even collected in a wonderful hardback volume (Ditko’s Monsters: Gorgo!) my friend and podcast partner Ray gave me for my birthday this year. One of the best gifts I received, I have spent hours taking in these fabulous Ditko illustrations in one of my favorite genres, kaiju comics. Definitely recommended for fans of both Steve Ditko and giant monsters.
Also British, Konga was, of course, a rift on King Kong. Now that’s not to say it’s a rip-off of King Kong, because for well over a century and a half, mad tales of giant gorillas came out of Africa. It’s worth noting that gorillas were once believed to be mythical beasts, like Yeti or Bigfoot, but let’s be serious now, Konga is obviously – I’ll be nice – inspired by King Kong. Once that’s out of the way, Konga is great fun, and for trivia buffs, it stars Michael Gough, Alfred from the 1990s Batman films.
Also like Gorgo, the comic book series from Charlton that followed featured the art of Steve Ditko, and was similarly collected in a beautiful hardcover volume (Ditko’s Monsters: Konga!). Konga seemed to engage in the traditional monster fights with other kaiju more often than Gorgo, possibly the reason for his edge in popularity and longer stay on the shelves. Sadly, despite both being at Charlton, this was before the age of the crossover, and we never got to see Gorgo and Konga slug it out.
In 1961 Denmark got into the act with Reptillicus, you can read my review of that film here, but this Danish kaiju with the limited flight and acid saliva also made the jump to comics with, yes, again Charlton, later to be known as home to heroes like the Blue Beetle, the Question, and Captain Atom. Copyright problems with American International and the comics company only allowed the production of two issues of Reptilicus, in which the monster rampaged through Scandinavia and the African jungles.
You can’t of course keep a good monster down, even if he’s not all that good at flying. Charlton Comics slyly continued the series through 1963 with the subtle title change to Reptisaurus the Terrible. Sure the big guy looked a bit different and was now red rather than green, but hey, lawyers would never know the difference, right? It was still a lot of fun, because comics.
These were three great monsters, three great comics, and all from the same comics company – Charlton. One wonders had they been on the shelves today how long before we saw an all-out slugfest and/or team-up with the trio. Although Gorgo and Konga did share covers later in Charlton’s covers for Fantastic Giants reprint comics, it never happened. I’ll just put that on my wish list and see what happens…